The 2000s brought us some truly amazing cinematic achievements, with era-defining classics like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Children of Men, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, among countless others. The same decade also brought us films like Gigli, The Wicker Man, Garfield, and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever - irredeemable filmmaking failures that made us question whether or not we, as a society, should even keep making movies.
But what about those films that fall somewhere in between? The 2000s movies that we were all too hard on? Like the underrated, oft-maligned passion projects and overly ambitious epics that failed to connect with audiences and sharply divided critics, leaving them relegated to cinematic purgatory. Movies like The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky's metaphysical, time-spanning love story - or Richard Kelly's ahead-of-its-time sci-fi political satire Southland Tales.
Revisiting some of the most divisive, financially disappointing movies of the 2000s, it becomes clear why they tanked so hard at the time. Many were doomed from the start, with advertising campaigns that misrepresented them or casting choices that predisposed many to underestimate them. However, with some time having past, we can turn a critical eye to these films and see how many were truly underrated films that have earned their cult status - or at least deserve to have one.
- 12,302 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
The dark comedy Death to Smoochy ultimately suffered from the public's expectations and a marketing campaign that had no idea how to sell the film as a commercial, mainstream project. The film stars Edward Norton as an affable, idealistic young children's entertainer who plays a character named Smoochy, a purple rhino clearly modeled after Barney. Meanwhile, Robin Williams stars as "Rainbow" Randolph Smiley, a bitter, washed-up children's entertainer who inadvertently loses his career when the powers that be replace his show with Smoochy's. Rainbow plots bloody revenge. Williams ended up earning a Razzie nomination for his performance, and the movie was savaged by critics and tanked at the box office.
Directed by Danny DeVito, Smoochy never got the credit it deserved. It's a dark-as-midnight comedy with an inspired tragicomic angle that set it far apart from the cineplex ecosystem in which it was competing. It makes sense that most audiences had a hard time wrapping their head around it, as it features a sweet, childlike playfulness (appropriate for a film about costumed kids' show hosts) wrapped around a hard, bitter core. Williams's Razzie nomination might be the most painful insult, as his performance is a whirlwind of insanity and deep-seated pathos that builds up into a character rarely seen on screen.
- Actors: Robin Williams, Ed Norton, Catherine Keener, Danny DeVito, Jon Stewart
- Released: 2002
- Directed by: Danny DeVito
- 21,279 VOTESPhoto: Samuel Goldwyn Films
This sprawling, chaotic, semi-surrealistic sci-fi spectacular was director Richard Kelly's long-awaited follow-up to Donnie Darko, and it sadly fell flat on its face upon release. It featured an enormous cast that was specifically hired to play off-type roles - including Dwayne Johnson as a meek, frightened patsy, Seann William Scott in a serious role, and a whole slew of famous comedians playing deranged slayers and Marxist revolutionaries in a near-future Los Angeles. The theatrical run time was well over two hours, and critics tore it apart for its impenetrable plot and then-laughable vision of the future.
The film came out in 2006, and takes place in an alternate timeline in which America was nuked by terrorists in 2005. This alternate version of the United States has adopted an Orwellian government by the time the film takes place in 2008. The idea of a Big Brother-like monitoring system seemed outlandish, as did Sarah Michelle Gellar's role as an adult entertainer who starts her own daytime talk show and becomes a media sensation. Fast-forward to today, and almost none of the social commentary seems impossible. In fact, the film is more timely, unsettling, and downright prescient than we ever could have imagined. Combine that with an amazing cast of actors who all show true range, and an incredible fantasy dance sequence featuring Justin Timberlake as a facially scarred soldier getting wasted and dancing to The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done," and it's not hard to understand why Southland Tales has developed such a cult following.
- Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Curtis Armstrong, Joe Campana
- Released: 2006
- Directed by: Richard Kelly
- 32,234 VOTESPhoto: Warner Bros.
After the groundbreaking success of The Matrix, a sequel was inevitable. It was perhaps nearly as inevitable that it wouldn't be able to live up to the original in the minds of fans or critics, and this proved to be the case. When the Wachowskis decided to explore the complex universe and multi-leveled realities their characters inhabit, pacing and cogent storytelling took a back seat to mythologizing, world-building, and failed attempts to outdo the visual spectacle of the original film.
That being said, not being "as good" as one of the greatest sci-fi action films of all time is a truly insane bar to clear, and it's not fair that an action film with some of the most imaginative fight choreography and stunts of its era should be relegated to the trash bin of our collective memory. There's no denying that the film has flaws, including its heavy-handed dialogue and wildly convoluted plot. On the other hand, Reloaded's fight scene between Neo (Keanu Reeves) and the Merovingian's bevy of henchmen is flat-out amazing, not to mention the extended highway setpiece and a host of other remarkable action sequences. Truly, The Matrix franchise didn't really fall apart until the final installment, The Matrix Revolutions, and it feels possible that people's inability to separate Reloaded from the much worse Revolutions is why Reloaded was - and largely still is - so reviled.
- Actors: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith
- Released: 2003
- Directed by: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
- 42,001 VOTESPhoto: Universal Pictures
Considered at the time to be an anti-romance rom-com, The Break-Up was seen by many as an unsatisfying downer. The film tells the story of a bitter break-up between Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Anison), who are forced to live in the condo they bought together as platonic roommates until it gets sold. They each try to salvage the relationship, but eventually realize they can't fix it because they themselves are somewhat broken. In the end, they both begin to work on their own personal issues, but don't get back together. It seems this non-traditional ending wasn't what many expected - or wanted - to see in a romantic comedy, and the film fizzled with apathetic shrugs from critics and audiences around the country.
However, looking back at the so-called "anti-romance" flick, it's clear that it's not against romance or love, but instead just takes a rare, honest look at adult relationships that so many other rom-coms ignore in favor of grand gestures and dramatic happy endings. The movie's downer ending is just a real depiction of the true break-up experience. The film doesn't place the blame on either Gary or Brooke, but rather examines the nuances of how some personalities just don't work together. The Break-Up might have sold itself as another fun, run-of-the-mill rom-com, but what it delivered was a painfully, hilariously realistic story about the importance of self-improvement and discovery over codependency and blind infatuation.
- Actors: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Joey Lauren Adams, Cole Hauser, Jon Favreau
- Released: 2006
- Directed by: Peyton Reed